Don't look now Roma fans, but our beloved Giallorossi are the hottest team in the land, having won four straight league matches. Roma's current four game crescendo is tops in the league, one of ahead of a resurgent Milan side, who are, ironically or appropriately, next week's opponent. Hidden within that streak, and more germane to this week's fixture, is Roma's two match winning streak away from the Olimpico, also tops in the league.
In the land of make believe, or I suppose simply the World of Warcraft, a clash between wolves and flying donkeys would be a hard fought, magical, and mystical melee. In reality, the clash between Roma and Chievo, while not necessarily a battle of the haves-and-have-nots, should favor the visiting side, where the only spell that matters is the one that finds the back of the net.
Chievo, while mustering up a decent enough offense, have been done in by their backline, as the Gialloblu have conceded 27 goals, third worst in the league. But, as fate would have it, their two highest rated players this term, Boukary Dramé and Dario Dainelli, are defenders; Luca Rigoni has also turned in a solid performance thus far.
Truth be told, Chievo's defense on the whole isn't as woeful as their goals conceded would lead you to believe. Their per game averages in tackles, interceptions, and shots conceded rank no worse than 12th in the league, and the aforementioned defenders all rank in the league's top 20 in one or more of those categories. So in an Aristotelian twist, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, at least in terms of goals conceded.
But, as is often the case with mid table clubs, where one side of the ball flourishes, or at the very least achieves mediocrity, the other suffers. For Chievo, the culprit is their offense. Quite simply, they're not good, ranking in the league's lower reaches in possession, shots/shots-on-target per game, passing percentage, dribbles and fouls drawn per game.
Furthermore, when they deem it necessary to possess the ball, they do so to little effect. Beyond their reticence to shoot, they simply have not found the back of the net often enough, scoring 19 goals, nearly a third of which have come the past two weeks.
Of those six goals, four have come from the feet of Alberto Paloschi. Palsochi, on loan from Milan, has notched five goals in only five appearances. Former Roma practitioners, Marco Andreolli and Adrian Stoian have also found the back of the net twice this season.
While a cresting Chievo simply strives for Serie A survival, the Roman resurgence has decidedly higher aims.
That Roma fans deign to dream about Champions League qualifications, and dare I say, scudettos, is all a product of offense. In the month of December alone, Roma have managed 10 goals, all without top scorer Erik Lamela. The non-Tottian reasons are simple; Miralem Pjanic and Mattia Destro have finally found their big boy pants, leading the Roman attack during The Apple's absence.
Naturally, this being Roma and all, these two sudden stalwarts are in doubt for this match. Destro assuredly won't play, following his ankle injury against Atalanta earlier this week, while Pjanic is dealing with a minor calf strain that cut his training short this week.*
Joining Pjanic on the probable list is Daniele De Rossi. DDR, fresh off suspension, went the full 90 during the midweek Coppa match. However, DDR left training early Friday due to a minor injury to his right foot, making the trio of Michael Bradley, Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Alessandro Florenzi the likely starters in midfield. Should Pjanic recover in time, early indications are he'll feature up top alongside Totti and Pablo Osvaldo, a role in which he's flourished over the past few weeks.
Federico Balzaretti, Leandro Castan, Marquinhos, and Ivan Piris should all occupy their usual spots along the backline. However, the real source of contention, one which we'll touch upon before the January transfer window, rests between the sticks.
Mauro Goicoechea has done a decent enough job since Maarten Stekelenburg went down with a thigh injury several weeks ago, not that big Marty was setting the world on fire to begin with. However, it was the Dutchman, not the Uruguayan, who made the midweek start against Atalanta.
But was this merely a matter of courtesy or a sign of things to come?
Zeman, if his return to Rome has proven anything, prefers the hot hand over name recognition. So don't be surprised if Goicoechea starts this one, despite Stek's return to fitness. But the more Mauro plays, the more the line between the two keepers blurs, easing the way for economics to be the deciding factor in who dons the gloves week-in-week-out.
Chievo is decidedly a mid-table club, albeit one with several capable and active defenders, that, much like Roma, appears to be hitting their stride as the curtains fall on 2012, taking seven points from their last three matches.
The key difference being Roma's prodigious scoring and Chievo's proclivity for conceding. If these traits hold true, you can draw your own conclusions about Sunday's match.
Chievo (4-3-3): 54 Sorrentino, 20 Sardo, 3 Andreolli, 2 Dainelli, 93 Drame', 5 Guana, 16 Luca Rigoni, 14 Cofie, 56 Hetemaj, 43 Paloschi, 77 Thereau
Roma (4-3-3): 13 Goicoechea, 23 Piris, 3 Marquinhos, 5 Castan, 42 Balzaretti, 4 Bradley, 77 Tachtsidis, 48 Florenzi, 15 Pjanic, 9 Osvaldo, 10 Totti.
*There may be hope for Mattia yet.